The important changes already made, speedskater Christine Nesbitt feels ready to race her best this season.
The reigning Olympic champion in the 1,000 metres is in a different place now than she was on the eve of the 2010 Winter Games.
A rising talent on the national team then, the spotlight was on her veteran teammates and training partners Kristina Groves and Clara Hughes, who retired after those Games.
After capturing her Olympic gold at the Oval in Richmond, B.C., Nesbitt switched coaches to train with Xiuli Wang, who had steered Groves and Hughes to their successes.
Nesbitt has won multiple world championships and set a world record in the 1,000 metres since her Olympic triumph to become Canada’s next speedskating star.
Attention will be on her this winter as she prepares to defend her title at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February.
Nesbitt feels prepared for the scrutiny. She says she’s mentally tougher, tactically smarter and physically stronger than in 2010.
“We’re always told never do anything different in an Olympic year,” Nesbitt said Saturday at Canadian team trials.
“I think the big changes have come the three years leading up to these Olympics. I’ve been with new coaches, new teammates and it’s been a different environment. But I think it’s been really conducive to developing as an athlete and as a person and enjoying what I’m doing a lot more and keeping the fire going and the desire.
“I’m really happy with where I am this year. I think it’s going to be a good season.”
Nesbitt won Saturday’s 1,500 metres at trials, which determines the Canadian team for the first four World Cups of the 2013-14 season. Calgary’s Olympic Oval is the first stop Nov. 8-10.
Nesbitt could have skipped Saturday’s race. The 28-year-old from London, Ont., was already pre-qualified to race both the 1,500 and the 1,000 for Canada based on her results last season.
“It was important. I’ve only raced one 1,500 so far this season about a month ago,” she said. “We have our World Cup coming up in about three weeks, so I needed to get another one under my belt so I don’t go into the World Cup with little to no racing.”
The top five in each distance at trials will be selected for the Canada’s World Cup team with the exception of the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 metres. Only three will qualify for the long distance races.
The Olympics trials which will determine Canada’s speedskating team for Sochi will be in December.
Since she was already on the World Cup team, Nesbitt continued to train hard right up until these trials. That work made Saturday’s race feel arduous.
“Today was a really hard race,” Nesbitt said. “It wasn’t a terrible race, but it could have been better than that.
“Even though I was training into it, I was skating much better in practice than I did in that race. I was having a hard time in my race kind of settling down and feeling that easy speed and feeling the glide after my push. I wasn’t carrying my speed well.”
Nesbitt admits she initially had trouble handling the media and sponsorship demands of an Olympic champion, but that too has been built into her 2014 strategy.
“That’s also something we’ve been working on the last few years,” she said. “My year after the Vancouver Olympics maybe I was not really good at managing all that kind of stuff.
“My coaches have been really helpful keeping that organized for me and keeping me engaged in the process with friendly reminders of ’hey, you need to do this,’ but they gave me lots of time to digest things, or to say ‘you’re going to be doing this, but I’m giving you two weeks’ notice or a month’s notice, so you’re not stressed out.“’
Regina’s Kali Christ, who was also pre-qualified in the 1,500, was second to Nesbitt. Winnipeg’s Brittany Schussler was third, Brianne Tutt of Airdrie, Alta., fourth and Josie Spence of Kamloops, B.C., fifth.
Saskatoon’s Lucas Makowsky won the men’s 1,500 metres. Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., a world champion in the distance two years ago, didn’t race Saturday because of a rib injury. He has applied for an injury bye to the World Cup team.
Richard MacLennan of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Mathieu Giroux of Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que., Vincent de Haitre of Cumberland, Ont., and Winnipeg’s Tyler Derraugh were second to fifth respectively.
Trials concludes Sunday with the women’s 5,000 metres and the men’s 10,000.